Friday, March 2, 2018

Guest Review: The Osiris Child (2016)

by tryanmax

This is less of a review than it is a recommendation. The Osiris Child (a.k.a. Science Fiction Volume One) is the rare indie sci-fi project that can stand among the special effects blockbusters but still delivers on the human-level drama of a low-budget flick.

The story pulls together a lot of common tropes: a planet on the verge of destruction, a mega corporation with a hidden agenda, an officer who goes rogue to save his child, a team up with an escaped convict, a stop-off at a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and everyone has a complicated past. None of this undercuts the movie’s appeal.

To be sure, Osiris has some rough edges, but the pacing is brisk, so you never get to dwell on it. Some intense stuff happens out of frame (which may be good or bad, depending on your tastes) but there is still plenty of on-screen action including a couple great chase sequences and a prison riot.
The narrative unfolds in a very non-linear fashion. In a few places, this is frustrating, but overall, it’s a smart choice that both creates and solves mystery and propels the story. Chapter title cards help keep things clear while adding a bit of a graphic novel feel.

But the best part from a sci-fi perspective is how convincingly futuristic this film is. As in other films, the Australian Outback stands in for a sparse alien world. Special effects are used sparingly, so the ones they have are done well. Holographic displays may be ubiquitous even on cheap TV shows nowadays, along with spaceships and cityscapes, but those in Osiris are high-quality.
There are all sorts of little touches that sell the idea of being in the future. Everyone has a little device that they bump to transfer money, much like photo sharing on cell phones. A coffeemaker adds cream and sugar by voice command while an AI researches the main character’s ex-wife’s new boyfriend. Smart, subtle aesthetic choices hold the sci-fi feel without needing to have a hovercraft float by every few minutes. Fans of practical effects will be pleased, too, by the film’s creatures. (There are creatures!)

From a scripting perspective, the thing that really sets Osiris apart is how cooperative most everyone is. Unlike other action films that try to increase the tension through pointless bickering, everyone in Osiris seems to appreciate the larger stakes. Characters may start out suspicious of one another, but once motives are sussed out and found to reasonably align, everyone comes together rather easily. Even the meth-head gun dealers are basically decent fellas.
The Osiris Child is geared solidly at genre-lovers. Fans of Riddick, Mad Max, and Ridley Scott will definitely get the most out of this, but anyone who loves sci-fi action will warm to this. By the way, the ending is one of the best surprises I’ve encountered in a while.
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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Guest Review: Black Panther (2018)

by tryanmax

The latest installment in the MCU franchise arrived amid massive hype and expectations. It handily exceeded box office projections and breathless believers are convinced that it represents a watershed moment in black cinema. In truth, Black Panther doesn’t tread much new ground in terms of the Marvel Universe or cinema in general. Where the film does succeed, it is by telling an origin story that doesn’t feel stale within a franchise that has already pumped out a bevy of origin stories and doing a large amount of world-building in a way that doesn’t leave the end product feeling over-stuffed. All told, Black Panther gets the job done.

The script follows a classic sins-of-the-father narrative. We are reminded briefly of the events of Captain America: Civil War, wherein King T’Chaka of Wakanda is killed, causing his throne and the mantle of the Black Panther to pass to his son T’Challa. As the story progresses, we learn that the dead king had a brother, N'Jobu, who went to Oakland, CA as a Wakandan spy and become obsessed with ‘liberating’ black people the world over using advanced Wakandan weaponry. A confrontation between the T’Chaka and N’Jobu leads to the latter’s death, leaving behind a son. The son grows up to become Killmonger, who seeks to fulfill his father’s ambitions and capture the Wakandan throne.
A few James Bond-esque sequences get the story rolling: a heist in London, a casino and car-chase in South Korea, joined in the middle by a trip to Q’s, er, Shuri’s workshop/lab. Shuri is T’Challa’s sister and the latest addition to the super-genius club that includes Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Hank Pym, Rocket Raccoon, and Peter Parker. Shuri designs all of Wakanda’s technology and infrastructure using the near-magical substance vibranium. Thought to be extremely rare—with the bulk being tied up in Captain America’s shield—Wakanda just so happens to sit atop a mountain of the stuff. Thanks to Shuri and vibranium, Wakanda looks like a stop-off for the Guardians of the Galaxy if they encountered a planet with a thing for Afrofuturism.
In terms of breaking cultural ground, it has been amusing to watch the true believers scrabble about for a “first” that Black Panther qualifies for. Ultimately, it is merely the first black superhero movie of the MCU franchise. [Sidenote: Blade, starring Wesley Snipes, was the first box office success for Marvel, spawning a trilogy and paving the way for the comic company’s own studio and the MCU.]

However, just because Black Panther doesn’t live up to the excessive hype doesn’t mean it is a bad movie. As noted, the MCU is awash in origin stories and the addition of Black Panther calls for yet another one. Writer and director Ryan Coogler tackles this challenge by tying the character closely to the world that must also be built around him. T’Challa is a product of his upbringing and culture, and so the audience is able to learn who he is as they discover the myths, rituals, genealogies, history, and politics of Wakanda.

This is no straightforward task. Wakanda is awash in contradictions. It is the most technologically advanced society on the planet, yet it maintains ancient customs and rituals. They are united as a nation, but remain divided into tribes. They are isolated, yet the concerns of the outside world press upon them. T’Challa must navigate these and other contradictions if he is to succeed as the new king.
Additionally, Coogler uses the villain Killmonger as an appropriate foil to showcase what a Wakandan prince separated from his heritage might become. Both men are proud, but Killmonger’s pride is distorted by resentment. While this contrast could have been explored more deeply, Coogler isn’t philosophizing; it is an action movie, after all.

Despite not upping the special effects bar, there are some ingenious differences in the effects we see. For example, rather than your standard-issue hologram, Wakanda has a technology that renders a miniature 3D bust out of black (presumably vibranium) sand. There are some armored rhinos, which is fun. The overall look of the movie is really cool. African influences on the techno-designs render a look that diverges pleasantly from the Apple/Microsoft look we’ve become accustomed to.
Black Panther also avoids many potential pitfalls of both the genre and external pressures. For one, the film is in no way a political soapbox. When it comes to political themes, it is easily surpassed by Civil War. At the same time, Black Panther isn’t an endless slugfest, either. Plenty happens apart from the action to drive the story, and much of the action is story in itself. Meanwhile, the smaller scale story keeps all the world-building manageable; the script doesn’t feel overstuffed or rushed. If anything, the pace was a tad slow, but never close to dragging. And there aren’t any byzantine plot devices that fail to make sense by the time the credits roll.

In short, if you put aside the hype, Black Panther is a decent film that entertains, but probably won’t blow you away.
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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Monsterpiece Theater: Cushing and Lee- Just Random Stuff

by Rustbelt

So, what’s the Cushing and Lee theme this week? Well, there really isn’t one. I just decided to pick some random films they starred in and review them on their own. Finding these two in films isn’t hard. During the course of his career Lee alone starred in more than 300 films - as either a lead, a supporting role, or just a cameo (or so I’ve read). The hard part is picking which films to review. However, it seems my schedule made the decisions for me.

Due to my lack of time, I’ve had to fall back on some films that I’ve already seen- including one whose every copy should be burned at the stake and wiped from the invisible bits of cyberspace. Mankind would do itself quite well to rid itself of this abomination. But we’ll save that for a few paragraphs on. For now, let’s start with one studio I’ve been teasing for the past three weeks and, amazingly, haven’t talked about in a single review until now.

The Mummy (Hammer, 1959)

They just had to do it, didn’t they? The Count, the Monster, a Werewolf two years later, and, now, a Mummy. As memorable as their work was, those Hammer people really liked following in Universal’s footsteps, didn’t they? Well, we’ll get to that in a second. First, the film.

Plot: In 1895, British Egyptologists Stephen Banning (Felix Aylmer) and Joseph Whemple (Raymond Huntley) are hard at work searching for the tomb of princess Ananka. With them and stuck in bed due to a broken leg is John Banning (Cushing), Stephen’s son and Joseph’s nephew. Not long after, the archaeologists find the tomb and enter, but not before an Egyptian named Mehmet Bey (George Patell) gives them the requisite warning not to enter the tomb. Of course, they do anyway and one of them- the elder Banning- is attacked after finding a hidden scroll.
Fast forward three years and to the U.K., when John Banning is called to his father who has been living in an asylum. The older man claims he was attacked by a mummy in the tomb. Naturally, John refuses to believe and soon enough, his dad is killed.
It turns out that Mehmet Bey has, in fact, brought a long-dormant mummy to England to kill those who plundered Ananka’s tomb. While going through his father’s papers, John treats the audience to exposition that takes up most of the film’s second act. In relating what his father told him, the younger Banning explains how Princess Ananka’s funeral was carefully overseen by the high priest Kharis (Lee). Kharis was later caught trying to blasphemously bring Ananka back to life and, as punishment, was buried alive and cursed to be her eternal protector.
Later, Whemple is killed by Kharis and Inspector Mulrooney (Eddie Byrne) calls on John at his home where Banning fails to convince the inspector of what is happening. Kharis tries to kill John, but John’s wife Isobel- a dead-ringer for Ananka- comes in and causes Kharis- upon seeing her- to disobey Bey’s orders to kill. (Yvonne Furneaux, BTW, plays both Ananka and Isobel.)
The film climaxes when Bey personally brings Kharis to kill John. The bandaged one almost succeeds when Isobel again arrives, albeit in proper period dress. John then tells her to do the most scandalous, unladylike, anti-Victorian deed of the late 19th-century British Realm- she lets her hair down, causing Kharis to again recognize her. Kharis instead kills Bey and carries off Isobel into a swamp, until she orders him to let her go and the police open fire.
Thought and Background: If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Hammer was kowtowing at the altar of Universal when scripting this one. Almost everything is borrowed/stolen from a Universal movie: a high priest trying to bring his dead lover back to life and spotting her modern doppelganger (The Mummy, 1932); a modern Egyptian priest worshipping a dead mummy and characters named Kharis and Banning (The Mummy’s Hand, 1940); characters named Mehmet Bey and Isobel and the former taking Kharis overseas to exact revenge (The Mummy’s Tomb, 1942); and the entire ending featuring a mummy and his lady love in a swamp (the Mummy’s Ghost, 1944). Good grief.

Sure, this film has its flaws. The scene of Lee as Kharis in ancient Egypt is very long and extensively detailed. There’s also a flashback to the beginning of the film that adds little more than Lee’s brief appearance. It almost feels like padding. And unlike other films where I’ve noted that Hammer added material and made it work, his film doesn’t add too much. Still, it’s well-shot, brightly colored, and all characters- including the comic drunks hired by Bey to transport Kharis- come off quite well. It’s a good addition to the Hammer canon, though not quite one of the best.
Cushing (as John Banning): It’s truly odd to see Cushing in a rather happy-go-lucky type of role. Usually, he’s either villainous, melancholy, or a loner. And since he’s playing a younger member of a family, he adds a zeal that makes him feel much younger than his years. It really is an enjoyable part to watch him play. And although he does eventually settle into a more ‘professor’ role near the end, you can tell he really enjoyed making this movie.

Lee (as Kharis): Once again, Lee finds himself playing a mute, heavily-costumed creature. But unlike Frankenstein’s monster, Kharis is not a pitiful, pathetic slouch. In the ancient Egypt scenes, Lee portrays Kharis as first dominant and dignified; then bewildered and terrified as his character is mummified alive for his sins. Later, as a mummy, Lee goes anti-Universal. Kharis is powerful and unyielding- none of Universal’s dragging of the bandages here. Lee also adds a nice touch with his eyes when Kharis looks at Isobel; he visibly softens with a look of longing that causes him to spare Banning. You really need a professional like Lee to pull this off.
Also, Lee hit a real benchmark here: he became only the second actor to play Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, and the Mummy for a major studio. The only other guy to do that is Lon Chaney, Jr. (Son of Dracula, Ghost of Frankenstein, and The Mummy’s Tomb.) Chaney, I should note, still kept an edge: the title role in The Wolf Man. Lee never played a werewolf.

(I couldn’t find a free link for this one. So, here’s a trailer.)

The Beast Must Die (Amicus, 1974)

Question: what happens when Hammer’s top rival throws Agatha Christie, The Most Dangerous Game, and 70’s Blaxploitation into a blender? Let’s find out.

Plot: The film starts off commonly enough, with a random black guy running through a forest being trailed by an apparently evil-looking security force of white guys getting their orders through headsets and from an evil-looking man sitting at an evil-looking control panel. Several times, the evil-looking guards close in, only for the evil-looking man to tell them to ease off. Finally, the black guy reaches a clearing where well-dressed people are eating lunch, er, taking tea. (Blast! I knew I’d screw up eventually.) But before he can ask for help, several of the evil-looking guards come out of the woods and open fire. He falls! Movie over!

But of course not. You knew it wouldn’t be that short.
The guy just laughs. You see, it WAS ALL A RUSE! The black guy, Tom, (Bahamian actor Calvin Lockhart), is, in fact, a filthy rich big game hunter. He was simply testing his newly-installed security system. The evil-looking guy in the evil-looking control booth, it turns out, is Pavel, a Polish(?) guy who installed the mass system of sensors, bugs, and cameras. Later, at a lunch party, Tom explains his motives to his guests, who include Jan (Michael Gambon), a pianist; his wife, Davina; Super Eurotrash artist Paul (Tom Chadbon); former diplomat Arthur (Charles Gray, a.k.a Henderson in You Only Live Twice and Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever); and archaeologist Lundgren (Cushing). Because people have died around them, Tom believes one of them is a werewolf and wants to hunt them. I guess big cats are no longer a challenge.

(Robin Leach voiceover) “Welcome to Tom’s palatial estate in Fool-on-Foot-shire where the guests are treated to exotic foods, expansive entertainments and being hunted down by their host on suspicion of being dogs in another life!”
Tom tries to test his guests with a silver candlestick, but Lundgren explains that won’t work because there’s no wolfbane in the air. Tom, of course, then supplies it. That night, a large ‘dog’ is sighted that chases Tom and then plows into the control room, killing Pavel right after he says he doesn’t believe in werewolves. Isn’t that how it always happens? (That massive security system is also destroyed in the process. Money to burn, I suppose.)

The next day, Tom sabotages everyone’s cars and cuts all telephone lines, determined to flush out the killer puppy. His wife Caroline (perennial overactor Marlene Clark), begs him to stop, thinking he’s finally gone overboard. But Tom wants to prove he’s right. He does so by boarding a helicopter that night and chasing a wolf while shooting at it with an automatic rifle loaded with silver bullets. He succeeds in saving Caroline from the animal in a shed, but accidentally blows up the helicopter and kills strafes his pilot in the process. What could be more sane?
The final night, Tom sets his sights on jerkoff Paul, who’s a loner, a weirdo, has hairy hands, and was missing when the wolf attacked. Paul is especially ticked off over the death of his pilot. (Yeah, First World problems.) He then orders everyone to taste a silver bullet- causing Caroline to transform and be killed by Tom. Lundgren then realizes that she must been infected during the werewolf the previous night. With Paul and Arthur now murdered, the beast is revealed to be…Jan! Tom then kills him in the woods, but not before being bitten.

Finally, in a total You Get What You Deserve Moment, Tom goes inside and blows his brains out before the curse can affect him. Only Lundgren and Davina survive.

Thoughts and Background: Okay, maybe that was a little harsh, but I’m just having fun. Truth be said, this movie isn’t that bad. Most of the characters are pretty well done. Some get more attention than others and the screen time is proportional to their roles. We don’t have Star Trek-esque moments of giving characters scenes solely for the sake of giving them something to do. Calvin Lockhart really nails his character; a charismatic guy, driven guy whose ego is teetering on the thin line between reality and insanity before going completely mental as the movie goes on. There are also enough twists and turns to keep viewers guessing who the werewolf is. (The film includes an infamous 30-second “Werewolf Break;” a pause for the audience to guess who the beast is.) The only problem, as I mentioned, is the actress playing Caroline. She’s one of those types who thinks that overdoing her inflections and gestures counts as acting. It doesn’t. And that’s why it’s too bad her character doesn’t disappear earlier.
Cushing (as Dr. Lundgren): Cushing has very little to do here. He puts on a German-ish accent (shades of Dr. Schreck?), and fills the role of Exposition Expert. He explains the (movie) science behind lycanthropy, as his character has been studying the werewolf phenomenon all his life. After that, like Charles Gray, he’s really in the background. Maybe that was to keep his character mysterious. Or maybe the filmmakers just forgot to make use of the talent they had in the cast. Who knows?
MOVIE LINK
And to be fair, Christopher Lee took some odd roles, too.
Maybe he’ll fare with a more visible- and better- role here.

The Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf, (Hemdale Film Corporation, 1985)

Oh, God in Heaven. I spoke too soon. Pray for me on this one, folks.

Plot?: Set right after the ending events of the first film (wherein anchorwoman-turned-werewolf Karen White exposed her bestial side on the late news before being shot with a silver bullet), Karen is being laid to rest- and then wakes up in her coffin. Meanwhile, her friend Jenny and brother Ben (the pre-Chris Evans Captain America Reb Brown) run into mystery man Stefan (Lee).
(Note: From this point on, Ben will be referred to by one of the many nicknames given to Mr. Brown by Mike and the Bots via his appearance in the sci-fi disaster, Space Mutiny.

And yes, that is Mr. Lee in the C.A. clip with Rip Hardpeck. I don’t know too much about it. What say we keep things at one disaster at time, OK?)

Stefan tells them that Karen was a werewolf and shows videotape evidence. (Wait? Wasn’t that broadcast all over L.A. at the end of the last movie? Oh, well.) He adds that the bullet was removed during Karen’s autopsy and that she will be stolen from the church and brought back to life because werewolves aren’t supposed to be buried in consecrated ground. Naturally, Butch Deadlift refuses to believe any of this and vows to kill Stefan instead(?).
That night, before saving Karen’s soul, Stefan goes to the seedy scene of L.A. for a punk rock concert where some powerful werewolves are hanging out. After some convoluted editing where, I think, the wolves attack while raving 80’s style..? I’m not sure. At least Stefan gets some cool shades for his efforts.

Back at the church, Stefan prepares to stab Karen with a titanium stake, er, spike. Whatever. Jenny and Bulk Van Der Huge arrive to stop him, allowing Karen to come to life as a wolf and try to attack Stefan. Nice going, Gristle McThornbody. Anyhoo, a few more werewolves attack and the group capture one of them. As Jenney and Slab SquatThrust watch, Stefan interrogates the wolfman, asking where Stirba (Sybil Danning)- Queen of the Werewolves- is located. Finally, the old wolf guy gives in and says she’s in Transylvania. (But of course! Ceausescu won’t let Dracula be published, so we gotta find a substitute!) Stefan kills the wolfman with his titanium and (presumably) does the same to Karen’s corpse. He says that he must destroy Stirba to save the world. Jenny and Big McLargeHuge vow to help him. He adds that some werewolves are too strong for silver and must be finished off by titanium. I forget. Is that the result of getting a Tanooki Suit or a Fire Flower?
Anyway, they’re preceded to Transylvania by werewolf Erle, who is taken to Stirba in time for a ceremony where a virgin is sacrificed and her youth is transferred to the elderly Stirba. Stirba then strips, as does the whole group, and an orgy breaks out. Then…then…OH, SCREW IT!!!

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you don’t plan ahead. I should’ve more wisely adjusted my time and reviewed some worthy film- like the original Wicker Man. No bees, there. But I ran out of time and fell back on this. I confess. I didn’t re-watch it. I can’t do it. This is all from memory.

Suffice to say, they go to a very, very eastern European town in Transylvania. They find some allies, who all get killed one by one. There’s another werewolf orgy scene with the actors covered in thin ‘wolf- hair and growling the whole time. Matrix: Reloaded ain’t got nothing on this. Eventually, Jenny gets captured and Thick McRunFast has to rescue her. They head back to town and abandon Stefan as confronts and kills his sister(?!) Stirba at the cost of his own life. Meanwhile, Jenny and Lump Beefbroth go back to L.A. and seem concerned when a kid comes to their door on Halloween night in a werewolf costume. Then the credits roll to 80’s underground rock.

Please! Somebody, help me!
Thoughts and Background: Am I still alive? Well, I’m typing, therefore I must be. I think I’ve already answered this section, but I’ll add a few things. This film is a mess. Not only is the story a disaster, but I remain convinced it was edited by aliens who thought all humans have ADD. (In other words, a generation ahead of their time.) It keeps flipping back to unrelated POVs, stock images of buildings and Europe-y clocks, recycled footage, and odd dream sequences. (The first werewolf ceremony includes a ‘visionary’ shot of a wax head melting off of a fake skull!) I never thought filmmakers could aspire to be a poor man’s David Lynch, but these guys sure tried. And did I mention the acting? I’m not going to bother with the tree-stump wooden acting of the actress playing Jenny. And Buff DrinkLots? While it may not be his fault that he’s a chunkhead, the fact that he could have anything resembling an acting career is proof that Hollywood is evil and hates America. As for Sybil Danning, well, to the sad chagrin of any adolescents reading this, stripping- no matter how many times you do it- is not a substitute for acting skills. As a mature adult, I approve this message.
Lee (as Stefan): Oh, Chris…who did you owe money to? Even mafia debtors aren’t cruel enough to make you star in something like this to pay them off. (I think.)

Simply put, Lee hated this film. The director later stated that Lee kept to himself, frustrated by the disastrous acting of his co-stars. Yeah, Crunch Bonemeal can have that effect on you.

But it seems Chris got the last word. Years later, he was cast in Gremlins 2: The New Batch. The story goes that, as soon as he arrived, Lee sought out director Joe Dante. Dante was also the director of the original The Howling. Upon finding the guy, Lee apologized profusely for having starred in a sequel that so marred a movie that he (Lee) had incredible respect for.

But if it’s a trailer for this one you need…it’s your funeral. (NSFW)
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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Monsterpiece Theater: Cushing and Lee- Amicus Anthologies

by Rustbelt

Quick question: What do The Twilight Zone, Tales From the Dark Side, and Night Gallery all have in common?

Answer: As the title of this article implies, they were all anthology shows! OK, maybe not the best start. But, oh, it’s true. Guest stars. Different worlds. No running plotline. Two had Rod Serling. One had George Romero (as top producer). Every week was a new scare story. It’s a great format. But, alas, it seems anthologies tend to work best on TV.

For good reasons, movies tend to prefer a single, main storyline. With only an hour-and-a-half of running time, it’s hard to squeeze multiple short stories into the format. Because of that, most studios shy away from the style. However, one British studio dared not only dabble in the format; they nearly made it their own. Enter Amicus Studios.
As noted by both myself and Backthrow last week, (I NEVER forget when someone tries to out-geek me!), Amicus was Hammer’s main rival for the horror market in both the British Realm and beyond. Hammer- if you’ll forgive the pun- hit the audiences with clever stories, bright colors, great acting, and plenty of female cleavage. Amicus had most of this, too. However, they decided to counter Hammer’s re-inventing of classics like Dracula and Frankenstein with anthology-style storytelling. And guess what? Several of them featured this month’s stars: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee!

So, let’s take a look at how Amicus’s Paramount tried to take on Hammer’s Universal.

Note: To keep this article to a decent length, I’m going to have to skim these summaries. Don’t worry, though. I’ll provide links to the films where I can find them

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (Amicus, 1965)

Frame Story: Five men pile into a train car on the London-to-Bradley line. They sit quietly and ignore each other until a sixth man, Dr. Schreck (Cushing) gets on, passes out, and drops his case. After collecting his things, Schreck reveals himself to be a professional on occult practices and an expert Tarot Card reader. At this, all the men except an annoying art critic ask to have their fortunes told.
Part 1- ‘Werewolf’: An architect (Neil McCallum) returns to his ancestral home where the new owner is asking him to make some alterations. Unfortunately, he uncovers the grave of a werewolf allegedly cursed to return and kill the owner of the house. However, he may have overlooked some details- including the details of the legend.

Part 2- ‘Creeping Vine’: A family has just returned from vacation, er, um…I mean, they’ve just returned from holiday, and have found a strange vine growing around their house that can’t be cut down. A science team led by Dr. Hopkins (Bernard Lee, who played James Bond’s boss ‘M’ from Dr. No in 1962 through Moonraker in 1979), discovers that the plant is evolved and has a brain- and has figured out how to defend itself.

Part 3- ‘Voodoo’: While on tour in the West Indies, a trumpet player for a jazz band (Roy Castle) sneaks into a voodoo ceremony, copies the music, and tries to make it his next big hit. Complications ensue.
Part 4- ‘Disembodied Hand’: After years of abuse, an artist (Michael Gough) gets even with a scumbag art critic (Christopher Lee). The critic is a sore loser- and runs over the artist with his car, severing the man’s hand. The artist promptly commits suicide, and his hand decides to regularly ‘visit’ the critic.
Part 5- ‘Vampire’: The first year of marriage proves to be rough when an American doctor (Donald Sutherland) learns his French wife is a bloodsucker. Hold on…isn’t this supposed to be fantasy? Whatever. Anyway, a fellow doctor recognizes what’s going on and tells the younger doc what to do. Only…how will he explain it to the police?

Epilogue: Forgot to mention something, at the end of each reading, Dr. Schreck pulls a fifth ‘get-out-of-jail’ Tarot card, explaining how the readee can avoid his fate. However, each time, he pulls the Tarot equivalent of the Ace of Spades. It seems there’s only one way out and they’re all in the same car on a train…
Thoughts and Background: This was actually the first anthology film to be made by Amicus. The segments are decent enough. Honestly, I thought ‘Werewolf’ was a little confusing. Had to watch that a few times before I got it. Writers got ahead of themselves, I suppose. This film is also lambasted by online snowflakes for the ‘Voodoo’ segment. Apparently, portraying Haitian voodoo worshippers as black and putting the stupid white guy in danger for violating their beliefs is somehow racist. You know, I’ll stop there. This kind of crap is for the political site. And speaking of snowflakes, Donald Sutherland only got £1,000 for appearing in this. Between that and taking a flat amount instead of a percentage for Animal House, his agent sucks. Or maybe he does. You decide.

Technically, the hardest part of this film for director Freddie Francis (yep, him again), was the train car scenes. Francis does a decent enough job of getting as many men in the shots as possible and using close-ups where appropriate. However, cinematography can only do so much. That’s where acting comes in…

WARNING: SPOILERS (warning will remain in effect for the rest of this article)

Cushing (as Dr. Schreck): He really shows how to put on the creepy and foreboding in this one. He also goes against type by growing a full beard and adopting a German accent. (A homage to his character’s actor namesake- Max Schreck?) Throughout the episode he’s equally entertaining and threatening to his fellow passengers in his segments. His bizarre, otherworldly voice also perfectly compliments the lighting Francis brings in at the climax and we learn that Schreck is actually Death himself, apparently amusing himself by scaring the five men before they die and leading them to the Underworld. Alongside his role as Baron Frankenstein, this is widely considered the role that made Cushing a bona fide horror star. And as for stars…
Lee (Franklin Marsh): Lee’s character goes through an emotional roller coaster in this one. He starts off as a super-snob, first berating Schreck’s ‘profession’ and then- in his segment- making Michael Gough’s life miserable. That, of course, turns to rage when he attacks Gough, (who turns in his own wonderfully emotional performance, falling to pieces after the attack and making us eager for Marsh to get his comeuppance). But, finally, Lee shows why he is who he is by pulling off one scene after another full of apprehension and fright. This is hard to pull off, especially when the thing he’s afraid of is a small, animatronic hand likely paid for with rolls of pennies (shillings?). Still, Lee’s reactions make the hand appear threatening enough and register several jump scares. Interestingly, Lee is the one character implied to live at the end of his segment. A reward for a good performance? Well, his character is an art critic and, at the end, he’s in a car crash and blinded for life. So…no.

MOVIE LINK

The House That Dripped Blood (Amicus, 1971)

Frame Story: An incredibly annoyed inspector from Scotland Yard arrives in the countryside to find out what happened to a missing film star. He’s then told that the wayward thespian isn’t the only person to go missing in the house in question.

Part 1- ‘Method for Murder’: A pre-Stephen King-esque horror/mystery writer (Denholm Elliott, a.k.a. Marcus Brody himself) rents the house so he can get over his writer’s block and meet his publisher’s deadline. But getting his book done on time- or finding his way out of his own museum, for that matter- quickly becomes less of an issue when the killer he’s created comes to life and begins stalking him, though no one else can see the maniac.
Part 2- ‘Waxworks’: A retired banker (Cushing) rents the house, and is soon joined by an old friend (Joss Ackland, the bad guy from Lethal Weapon 2) who visits the house- I mean, calls on him. The two jointly and separately visit a wax museum that features a mannequin which resembles a woman they both knew in their youth. Feeling something is very wrong, the former banker tries to keep his friend from going back; but the lure is too strong.
Part 3- ‘Sweets to the Sweet’: John Reid (Christopher Lee) now rents the house and has brought his young daughter, Jane (Chloe Franks), with him. To keep her out of the local schools, he hires a private tutor, Ann (Nyree Dawn Porter), to teach her. Ann is appalled at Lee’s brutal discipline of his daughter and refusal to allow her to have toys. However, after Jane shows some odd behavior, Lee reveals the madness to his methods- his late wife was a witch and he’s afraid that Jane may follow in her footsteps. (Note: The Realtor is now relating this to the inspector.)

Part 4- ‘The Cloak’: Perennial pain-in-the-@$$ horror film star- and subject of the inspector’s visit- Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee, taking a break from being the Third Doctor), is irate at the production values on his latest film. Controlling what he can, he buys a very authentic vampire-ish cloak from a very demonic-ish costume shop. The cloak turns out to be too authentic, as Henderson begins acting and behaving like a vampire for real- even biting his co-star Carla (Ingrid Pitt) during filming!
Epilogue: Moaning and groaning, the inspector ignores the realtor’s advice to wait until morning to inspect the house after the electricity can be turned on. He lights a candle and heads to the basement. There, he’s confronted by Henderson- as a full vampire! (It turns out Henderson was set up; some real vampires liked his horror films so much they made him ‘one of the club.’) The inspector kills Henderson with a broken chair leg, and then meets his own end when Carla wakes up.

Thoughts and Background: There’s not too much available on this film, except that Pertwee was a last-second addition. (Vincent Price was originally asked to play Henderson, but couldn’t because of contractual reasons.) Psycho’s Robert Bloch returns as the screenwriter. This time, all four segments also hold up rather well. It was also nice to see Elliot and Pertwee outside of their more famous roles. To be honest, I only saw some of Pertwee’s Doctor Who work for the first time when I recently saw Rifftrax’s parody of The Five Doctors back in August.
The only truly weak part, IMHO, is the framing story. Each segment is the same: the officer (or realtor) tries to make the inspector believe their story, only to be rebuffed as he acts annoyed. While his fate does redeem the story somewhat, the ending narration is rather lame. Right before the credits, the realtor (appropriately named ‘Stoker,’ a fact Henderson takes note of), says that the house reflects the personality of the whoever lives in it and that, hopefully, it will find a good owner. Uh, if it reflects he deepest demons of whoever lives in it, I don’t think anyone would end up being a decently prospective owner. The whole wraparound story really feels tacked on.

Cushing (Philip Grayson, the ex-banker): Freddie Francis (who did NOT direct this film), once said that Cushing got him out of one problem after another. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cushing did the same for this film. Long portions of his segment are silent. Cushing had to do a lot of non-verbal acting, displaying world-weariness and boredom after renting the house; yearning and longing during a dream sequence in the wax museum; and finally fear and concern as the museum consumes his friend.

Also of note is the subject matter. The theme of this segment is regret. Both Cushing and Ackland’s characters wonder what life would have been like if either had pursued their dream girl when they were young men. It’s a feeling only lonely men of advancing age can feel. (Or so I’m told.) That leaves them vulnerable to the museum’s (the house’s?) power. In the film’s only segment where the actual villain plays only a tiny role, the men’s vulnerability drives the story in a particularly unique way.
Lee (as John Reid): Lee turns in another of his trademark domineering performances. What makes this different, I think, is that so much of his rage is aimed at his little girl. Before we learn the reasons behind his actions, Lee comes off as the father from Hell. I mean, seeing actors unleash rage on their peers is one thing, but a child? It’s very unsettling. Of course, when the truth is revealed about Jane, we get a very good- and quick- reason why she needed to be left in the dark.

Fun fact: In the final segment, Henderson moans over how modern horror movies aren’t as good as the old ones like Dracula, “the one with Bela Lugosi, not this new fellow.” The ‘new fellow,’ is, of course, Lee! Also, the wax museum- which shows off mannequins of famous evil figures- has one of Lee as Dracula that Cushing walks past.

MOVIE LINK
Tales From the Crypt (Amicus, 1972)

Frame Story: Five people wonder through Highgate Cemetery in London. Gradually, they’re drawn to the old underground tombs. Eventually, they end up in a large room with a man dressed in a dark robe- no, not Palatine; the Crypt Keeper. He then begins to discuss their fates.

Part 1- ‘…And All Through the House’: A woman (Joan Collins) kills her husband on Christmas Eve. (Joyous start.) While trying to hide the body, a radio report reveals that a killer dressed as Santa Claus is one the loose- and, it turns out, outside the house.

Part 2- ‘Reflection of Death’: A man (Ian Hendry) drives off with another woman and their car crashes. He eventually makes it back, only to learn that he’s a corpse and has been dead many years. Of course, he then wakes up and finds himself behind the wheel…
Part 3- ‘Poetic Justice’: A father and son pair (David Markham and Robin Phillips) decide they’ve had enough of an old man, Arthur Grimsdyke (Cushing), who keeps too many animals at his home. They think he’s a stain on the community’s reputation and decide to drive him out by having his animals removed, getting him fired from his job, and spreading rumors that he’s a child molester. (Grimsdyke has deeply enjoyed making toys for children and entertaining them.) The coup de grace comes when they send him hateful Valentine cards on Valentine’s Day and he hangs himself. One year later, he pays them a visit, albeit from beyond the grave.
Part 4- ‘Wish You Were Here’: In the umpteenth variation on W.W. Jacobs’ short story “The Monkey’s Paw”, a financially-stressed couple find a Chinese statue that grants three wishes and they ask for a fortune. However, as in the short story, it comes in the form of compensation/insurance when a family member dies. (In this case, the husband behind the wheel.) The wife wishes him back the way he was before the crash, but he’s still dead- he had a heart attack and died just before the collision. Finally, she wishes him alive again, not realizing his body was embalmed. (Lots of painful screaming follows.)

Part 5- ‘Blind Alleys’: A man arrives as the new director of a home for blind men. He promptly makes a jerk out of himself, withholding food, warmth, and medical care so he can live a life of luxury. Finally, the men have had enough and use their resources to trap the director and his dog while building a booby-trapped maze for them. The director is then sent into the maze with his madly-starving dog.
Epilogue: The Crypt Keeper finishes and delivers some devastating news: all of them are already dead. Apparently, they suffered memory loss as spectres and he decided to toy with them by recounting their deaths to their faces. He then leads them into Hell for eternal torment.

Thoughts and Background: As you might guess from this summary, I really didn’t think too much of this one. In the previous two movies, the situations were often creative and where there were villains, they remained in the background long enough for the stories to develop. Here, the villains are all straightforward and one-dimensional. I spent four out of the five segments just waiting for the bad guys to get what the deserved. The only interesting story is the fourth one, and that, as mentioned, is based on an existing (and somewhat overused) short story.
And I’d certainly be remiss if I didn’t mention that this film was based on the macabre 1950’s comic book of the same name. (It was published from 1950 through 1955 and has had a few 21st- century revivals.) Most of what’s here is based on stories from the comic. And, yes, HBO’s 1990s TV series ‘Tales From the Crypt’) was also based on the comic. (It was much better than this film.) It’s just too bad the filmmakers couldn’t do more with the material at hand. This one is worth a passing glance, but not much else.
Cushing (as Arthur Grimsdyke): Cushing is really one of the only reasons to watch this movie. As I mentioned last week, following his wife’s death, Cushing began to play some roles where he lived out his grief on screen. In this film, his character is a widower and tries to communicate with his dead wife via a Ouija board. The grief he feels as everything he has left is taken away from him is quite powerful. (He even dedicated this performance to his late wife.) However, I just don’t think it’s enough to save this story as the villains are as bland as can be. Even the ending, with Cushing coming back from the dead and totally kano-ing the evil son by ripping his heart out one year later on Valentine’s Day doesn’t seem fulfilling enough.

Maybe Christopher Lee did the right thing by not starring in this one.

MOVIE LINK

OK, to make up for the lack of enthusiasm for that last film, for all my fellow dudes, he’s a pic of vampire Ingrid Pitt. Enjoy!
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